The Clean House

ACT Theatre

Through April 29.

Page 84 of the script for The Clean House, by Sarah Ruhl, includes the following stage direction: "They start taking bites of each apple and if they don't think it's a perfect apple they throw it into the sea. The sea is also Lane's living room. Lane sees the apples fall into her living room. She looks at them."

One of the apple eaters is Matilde, Lane's young Brazilian maid who can't bring herself to do any housework. Instead of cleaning, she mourns her parents by trying to create the perfect joke: "[My mother] was laughing at one of my father's jokes. A joke he took one year to make up, for the anniversary of their marriage. When my mother died laughing, my father shot himself. And so I came here, to clean this house."

Lane, the woman whose living room rains apples, is a lizard-hearted, humorless surgeon. Her husband, who is also a surgeon, leaves her for an Argentinean woman with breast cancer (page 84's second apple eater). Ruhl's play—a 2005 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—is pop comedy: shameless with the heartstrings and a few wocka-wocka punch lines, but its treatment of love and death is sweet and sad.

Allison Narver, former artistic director of the recently deceased Empty Space Theatre, directs the play simply and cleanly. The production hits a few off notes (the surgical pas de deux that begins act two isn't goofy enough; one character's breakdown—during which, the stage directions say, she makes "a giant operatic mess"—isn't operatically messy enough). But for every one thing that is wrong, ten are right: Christine Calfas is relentlessly charming as Matilde; Suzanne Bouchard is appropriately lizard-hearted as Lane. And the jokes are funny, even when they're in Portuguese. BRENDAN KILEY

The Cody Rivers Show: A Poke in the Wound

Theatre Off Jackson

Through April 14.

Whatever you were planning to do this weekend (Are We Done Yet? Habitat for Humanity? Grandmother's funeral?), just skip it. The Cody Rivers Show is better.

The sketch comedy duo of Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor creates and performs intellectual, blazing-fast, highly conceptual theater that's so bizarre and charming and unselfconscious that you can't quite comprehend what you're looking at. Like a baby giraffe. Like a baby giraffe wearing a monocle and giving you a high-five.

Their current show, A Poke in the Wound, careens from a circular collegiate lecture on child safety ("Here is a chart of Things the World has Been Over Time; as you can see, 'safe' isn't even on there") to grave errors in judgment ("That's not a piano, it's an electric fence!") to sheepish self-disclosures ("I don't have a car—I am a car; I can change my body into a car, and I do sometimes").

Cody Rivers is brilliant, but refreshingly free of self-referential back patting. It happens, it's over, they hug, they bow. It's the kind of thing that you can't imagine written down on a piece of paper. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to go home and create something yourself. Go to Cody Rivers this weekend. Go to it twice.

Poke closes with a musical number (a sort of square-dancey ditty about disillusioned beasts, which turns cute then hysterical then poignant) that caused me to scribble in my notes: "This is the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life." That has never happened before. I hope it happens again. LINDY WEST


Ghost Light Theatricals at Chamber Theater

Through April 21.

Molière couldn't have foreseen the horrors of televangelism, but he figured right that audiences would always enjoy watching a religious faker get kicked in the pants. In this French Restoration classic, rich landowner Orgon has an ideological crush on the seemingly pious Tartuffe, who swindles dopey Orgon out of his estate and tries to get his mitts on his wife. Director Beth Raas has efficiently edited this long play of rhyming couplets, and added staging tricks—leaps, lurching chairs, and scooting lines of actors—that are fun to watch.

But the production muddies some of the play's intentions: Why cast a John Waters look-alike (Michael Oakes) as the supposedly charismatic Tartuffe? Played as a trembling, oily huckster, Oakes leaves us wondering how on earth Tartuffe could hold Orgon (Patrick Allcorn) in sway. Hypermanly and mustached, the Tom Selleck–like Allcorn would have made a better Tartuffe himself.

Why follow the original script's scene changes? Why the mysterious Velcroing and un-Velcroing of facades on set pieces in the blackouts, when scarcely a stick of furniture needs be moved on this spare set? And why dress the characters in a baffling array of outfits, from Orgon's 1920s golf clothes to Cleante's 1980s business suit with leopard tights? If the wise maid Dorine (Daniela Melgar) wore a uniform to suggest her lowly social position (instead of a bustier with a little-girl skirt) or if Melgar's characterization had underscored her status, the play's observations about deception between classes might not have been lost.

In contrast to the other characters, Colleen Robertson's Mariane was responsive and well-timed, making her shrill ingenue type not only bearable, but interesting. It's too bad most of the production's elements get mired in obtuseness. STACEY LEVINE